Top 4 things I will take to Nicaragua next time I go (if there is a next time):
1) Soap leaves…more of them
These are small paper thin square sheets of soap, the size of a credit card or smaller, that you can carry in your bag. Just add water.
We were at the clinics most of the day and there was no sink to wash your hands. We had access to clean water, but no soap. Most of the time we used hand sanitizer or hand wipes. On occasion we went to places that maybe had a sink and running water but no soap.
2) A more spacious backpack
I took this very cute Vera Bradley backpack, but I wish it had more pockets. We needed to be prepared for when we went out on excursions, community home visits … anything really. We needed to take items that might have come in handy, even if we didn’t use them one day that certainly didn’t mean we wouldn’t need them the next day. These are things like bug spray, sunblock, cough drops, water bottle, toilet paper…
3) Selfie stick
Sometimes a girl just isn’t blessed with long arms. Someone’s face always ends up getting cut off.
4) A purse
All I took was a wristlet. There were nights we just went out to dinner and here I am with my backpack trying to squeeze into tight spaces …”excuse me, pardon me, excuse me”… but yet the wristlet was not enough to carry all my extra necessities.
Some things to laugh about.
The cold water is limited while showering. It shut off not once, not twice but three different times as I was showering…one being the time where I had suds in my hair and shaving cream on my legs and pits. Might I add there is no such thing as hot water.
Lesson: Take quick showers!
I met a set of twinsies during Las Lomas community home visits and one of them peed on my arm as I was holding her.
Lesson: Check for cloth diapers.
Photo by: Sydney Stilwell
Photo by: Sydney Stilwell
Don’t ever fall asleep around people…especially ones who will document it.
Lesson: This is pretty much a given … don’t take naps.
Photo by: Holly Wise
Photo by: Jennifer Trevino
The latrine was the only thing available at both of the communities I visited. You can only imagine how that went. In San Francisco, the first community we visited, there was a small shed made of green metal panels and pieces of lumber, with a cement latrine smack down in the middle. I do have to say that this was a lot nicer than the one I would use in Mexico as a child, that was made of adobe bricks with just a hole in the ground. As I was going in I heard some shuffling and as I’m getting ready to go…I see a lizard in the corner. I ran out of there like nobody’s business.
Lesson: Nothing other than…check your surroundings…always.
Before going to Nicaragua, I knew that I took a lot of things for granted. When I get frustrated with things like my waiter taking too long at a restaurant, or my internet going a little slower one day I usually can look at my life and think #FirstWorldProbs. But I never realized it’s all the things that I never even think about that I am actually taking for granted.
1. Tap Water
In Nicaragua, their tap water has not been filtered and has a lot of bacteria in it. Most of the people that live there are immune to those bacteria because their bodies have built up a tolerance. So my weak, American immune system couldn’t drink anything but bottled water, or even brush my teeth with the sink water. Do you know how hard it is to remember to bring a bottle of water with you to brush your teeth when you are half awake?
2. Over the Counter Medicine
In the clinics, I noticed a lot of medicines like TUMS, ibuprofen and simple vitamins being prescribed to patients and these people being so grateful for them. I usually just have all of those things on hand, but these people have no money or little access for the simplest of medicine.
3. Indoor Plumbing
While there was a toilet available to me most of the time in Nicaragua, I never once was able to flush toilet paper down the toilet. When someone would, it would lead to really embarrassing messes just because someone routinely forgot to throw their toilet paper away instead of their usual flush.
4. Hot Water
Just to piggy back off of the plumbing situation, I had not experienced hot or even luke warm water for two entire weeks. Which I know, #FirstWorldProbs but I mean not having water heat up at ALL for two weeks, who knew you were supposed to thank your water heater at home every day just for working?!
Working at a retail store back home, I always get so confused when people try to pay me with foreign money. Why would you even try that? You’re in America, you have to pay with American money. However, in Nicaragua my U.S. dollar was not turned down once. Roughly 28 Córdoba’s equals one dollar, so people take it everywhere because while one dollar is nothing to us, it could be everything to them.
6. Garbage Service
When we visited the rural communities that the nursing students were setting up clinics in, every single family burned their trash. One little girl even burned her foot because she accidently stepped in the trash. Almost all of them have upper-respiratory infections from breathing in all of the smoke, and it’s all because they don’t have a garbage service. Next time I see Waste Management I’ll be sure to thank them for saving my lungs.
7. A Ball to Play With
The kids that I met at the communities were so excited to play with us with the simplest of things. I have never seen a kid so excited to play tag, and when we found a ball to play with it was like the coolest thing they had ever seen. The games I haven’t played since grade school, that I frequently got bored with these kids could have played for hours. Even though I did not speak the same language as these kids, I learned that having fun is a universal language especially when it’s the simplest kind of fun.
The Texas State University students embraced the people and scenery that Nicaragua had to offer. This video compiles a single second from every day of the two weeks abroad.
Jan. 4 – The Momotombo volcano greets the Texas State professors and students as they arrive in Managua, Nicaragua.
Jan. 5 – The team has dinner by Lago Xolotlan (Lake Managua) at night.
Jan. 6 – Nursing student Jasmine Casey plays with a baby boy during the house visits at the San Joaquin community.
Jan. 7 – The first group of nursing students visit the Dr. Humberto Alvarado Vasquez hospital in Masaya.
Jan. 8 – Three girls from the San Joaquin community, Liz, Ashley and Nicole sing one of their favorite songs.
Jan. 9 – Nursing student Jasmine Casey gives piggyback rides to the kids of the San Joaquin community on her free time.
Jan. 10 – The nursing students paint the walls at the orphanage Hermanas Siervas del Divino Rostro.
Jan. 11 – TxState Global News Team member Amanda Gibson waves as she zip lines through a coffee plantation.
Jan. 12 – Nursing student Emily Estes takes the census at a home from the Campuzano community.
Jan. 13 – Dr. Melina Quezada offers advice to nursing student Lucy Vitek while at the clinic.
Jan. 14 – Nursing student Anastasia Houze takes the vitals of a baby while at the clinic.
Jan. 15 – Nursing student Bridgette Young carries a boy around the circle while playing Duck, Duck, Goose.
Jan. 16 – “We just got in trouble,” nursing student Michelle Juarez said. She had been walking a woman who had turned 110 years old the previous day. The woman wasn’t allowed near the door because she liked to run away.
Jan. 17 – The team spends their last day in Nicaragua at Pochomil Beach.
Jan. 18 – After two weeks out of the country, the team completes the final element of the trip: landing back in Texas.
Dalton Fierst, the only male nurse who decided to study abroad, walked to row 27 of the airplane and took a seat as he waited for the plane headed to Managua, Nicaragua to take off on Jan. 4. He sat down quietly.
Upon first appearance, he is an athletically built guy with broad shoulders and a quiet demeanor. On this morning, he was casually dressed with a resemblance of the west coast he grew up on.
The St. David’s School of Nursing at Texas State University was heading to Nicaragua where they paired with International Service Learning to host free clinics in rural communities surrounding the city of Masaya.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the nursing students would split in two groups and provide healthcare to families in four communities who might not receive medical attention otherwise. This trip would serve as a class credit in community health for the 28 nursing students who were about to begin their last semester of nursing school.
The summer before he moved to Round Rock to begin nursing school, Fierst went on a solo adventure to the country of Uganda.
“I wanted to be spontaneous and go on an adventure,” Fierst said. “But I went there because I knew they were a poor country and I wanted to help the community.”
Fierst grew up in Malibu, California, before moving to Kerrville, Texas, at the age of 10. In Kerrville, Fierst found his niche in high school on the football and soccer field.
Upon graduation, Fierst and a group of his closest friends attended Blinn Community College in Bryan, Texas.
While at Blinn he obtained an associate degree in humanities and then decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree in nursing at Texas State University.
This same passion and heart to help the community and people around him is what has caused Fierst to find success in the nursing field, gain respect from his peers and experience the recent trip to Nicaragua.
“I chose nursing because I like to help people,” Fierst said. “I figured this was the best way to go about it.”
Fierst’s passion for the people around him caught the attention of his classmates.
“I think Dalton has one of the biggest hearts and he loves to make people feel good about themselves,” Fierst’s close friend and roommate, Caitlin Ortiz said. “Especially when they are feeling sad, he loves to make them feel better. I think as a nurse that will be good for him because nursing is all about caring.”
Ortiz said Fierst’s demeanor helps make patients immediately feel comfortable opening up to him.
“I think that’s a great strength for nursing because the patients have to trust you,” Ortiz said. “In awkward situations, like when you ask about their last bowel movement or what their pee smells like, if they are more comfortable with the nurse, patients are more likely to tell the truth and get the help that is needed.”
After the first few days in Nicaragua, Fierst knew this trip was where he was supposed to spend his winter break, despite being the only guy on a trip with nearly 40 girls.
“It takes a lot of courage to go against the grain,” Dr. Adriana Hernandez, a dentist and ISL team leader, said. “It’s hard to be different than what society expects.”
Many people may have let stereotypes of the industry and negative connotations toward male nurses slow them down, but Fierst has only allowed this to push him toward further success in the industry.
Community health was the course the nurses were enrolled in for the trip. It is a course that challenges them to go into an unknown community, evaluate the health conditions and then assess and diagnose patients who attended the weekly clinics.
The 28 nursing students split into two groups and each group went into designated communities. They visited families in their houses in order to gather a medical census of the surrounding area and invite them to the clinics.
Residents attended these clinics to acquire medicine for their different illnesses ranging from allergies all the way to a possible case of osteosarcoma-a type of cancer that starts in the bones.
Fierst was the nursing student who spotted this potential case.
He felt what he thought might be growths similar to osteosarcoma on the foot of a young girl. Fierst’s persistence to make sure the doctor made intentional notice of the growths he found led to a referral for the patient to see a specialist.
Regardless of the final diagnosis, Fierst remained humble and viewed this patient the same as all the others he had seen that day, but his care caught the attention of one of his peers.
“I don’t know what textbook he was reading but it definitely wasn’t the one I was,” Sydney Stilwell said. “I would say he got the diagnosis right 99 percent of the time.”
When talking with other nurses in the same clinics as Fierst, all of his peers had a similar review: he was an intelligent nurse too humble to see his own strengths.
“We need less sass and more of Dalton in nursing,” Stilwell said.
A mom, wife, student, friend, painter, nurse, and chairman for Paws for a Cause are just a few of the hats that Sarah Lohmeyer, 35, wears on a daily basis. Lohmeyer isn’t your typical nursing student at St. David’s School of Nursing at Texas State University.
Lohmeyer didn’t always know what she wanted to do, but after years of trying different things, being a corrections officer and a personal trainer, she finally decided that she wanted to help people through nursing.
In January, she got the opportunity to go to Nicaragua in participate in clinics at local communities. Lohmeyer originally was interested in oncology nursing due to her grandmother’s death from cantaloupe-sized brain tumor when she was 15.
“That pretty much rocked my world because I saw her suffer for a year and a half,” Lohmeyer said. “I felt like there had to be something more that could have been done with her. She was misdiagnosed with an ear infection. She complained of earaches for months and they just kept prescribing ear drops and we just kept thinking there has to be something else.”
Her grandmother was finally convinced to go to another doctor after months of pain. They found the large tumor in her brain, they operated, but the tumor to grew back. Her grandmother’s story really inspired Lohmeyer to become the kind of nurse she is.
“We are all human and we all make mistakes,” Lohmeyer said. “There is more you can do to not just assume, but to ask more questions, get more evidence and try to find out what is really going on instead of just letting them be a number. Just to focus on the person not the symptoms.”
After her grandmother’s death, Lohmeyer said she quit going to church. In her mid-20s she started going to a non-denominational church. This church is where she met her future husband, Steve. When they met, they were dating others but a few months later they had their first date.
“We went to a Greek restaurant in South Austin for a casual dinner and then we went and bought two forties,” Lohmeyer said. “We went down to the lake and sat and talked for while.”
They got married in September of 2007. Only four weeks after getting married, Steve was deployed to Iraq for 10 months.
“It was hard for me because I always told myself I never wanted to be married to someone who has to leave and be gone so it was really difficult,” Lohmeyer said.“It helped me become my own person as a wife and just be able to take care of a household.”
Before her husband left for Iraq they decided that at the same time, from across the world, they would pray Psalm 91 together. While everyone interprets things a little differently, Lohmeyer interprets it, as no matter what falls around you, even if everything does, you will live.
While on her trip to Nicaragua she was drawn to a painting in someone’s homes.
“I didn’t know what it said because it was in Spanish and then at the bottom it said Psalm 91,” Lohmeyer said. “I literally had goose bumps all over because it reminded me of the time he left and I’m away from him again and it was just a little sign or something. It was really neat.”
After a couple years of marriage, Lohmeyer became a mother to her first-born Grace Lois Lohmeyer, who is now four and a half, and later Allison Naomi Lohmeyer, who is 18 months. Grace Lois was named after Sarah’s grandmother, Grace, who passed away from the brain tumor and Steve’s grandmother Lois.
Lohmeyer has become more interested in labor and delivery nursing because of her good experience when giving birth to her daughters.
“She came to nursing school with the idea to be a Labor and delivery nurse,” Elizabeth Biggan, assistant clinical professor at St. David’s School of Nursing, said about Lohmeyer. “This is her goal, her dream, her everything all the way through and you can see it in labor and delivery. She will skip lunch, she will do whatever she needs to do to be there with that mom and help her with delivery. So yeah I think she is really driven to be a labor and delivery nurse.”
Lohmeyer was chosen for Labor and Delivery at St. David’s Hospital in Georgetown for her capstone clinical rotation and where she delivered both of her children, St. David’s Hospital in Austin.
She said that when she first started nursing school the hardest challenges for her were letting go of things she can’t control and finding balance between her school and family lives.
Only a couple months after applying, she found out she was pregnant with her second daughter Allison.
“It is ok if I make a B because the difference for me is time with my family. I chose to spend more time with my family,” Lohmeyer said.
A friend of Lohmeyer from the nursing school, Anastasia Houze reflects on a time they were orienting for a job. A questioner asked them what they would do if they had extra money from a bonus.
“She said she would give it to people in need and I think that really sums up what she is all about,” Houze said. “She truly wants to help people and really wants to make a difference in people’s lives. That shows in her work, in her friendships, and in her relationships… We all go through rough times and she is always working to be a better person to serve others.”
Her time in Nicaragua doing clinics a very humbling experience for Lohmeyer and she hopes to medically help and educate people in Uganda in the future.
“You have known them for three days and you can’t communicate but when you have to say goodbye it is the hardest thing to do,” Lohmeyer said. “They come up to you and remember you and give you hugs.”
An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication